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Prepare now for a deadly second wave of infection, Europe warned

WHO expert fears another spike in cases this autumn – just as flu and measles strike

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Ground zero: A woman walks on a foggy street in Wuhan, the Chinese city hit the hardest by the coronavirus. Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song

Ground zero: A woman walks on a foggy street in Wuhan, the Chinese city hit the hardest by the coronavirus. Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song

Ground zero: A woman walks on a foggy street in Wuhan, the Chinese city hit the hardest by the coronavirus. Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song

Europe should brace itself for a second deadly wave of coronavirus because the pandemic is not over, the World Health Organisation's top official on the continent has warned.

Dr Hans Kluge, director for the WHO European region, delivered a stark warning to countries beginning to ease their lockdown restrictions, saying that now is the "time for preparation, not ­celebration".

Dr Kluge stressed that, as the number of cases of Covid-19 in countries such as the UK, France and Italy was beginning to fall, it did not mean the pandemic was coming to an end. The centre of the European outbreak is now in the east, with the number of cases rising in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, he warned.

Countries should use this time wisely and start to strengthen public health systems as well as building capacity in hospitals, primary care and intensive care units, he said.

Dr Kluge also warned that a second wave could coincide with an outbreak of other infectious diseases.

"I'm very concerned about a double wave - in the autumn, we could have a second wave of Covid and another one of seasonal flu or measles. Two years ago, we had 500,000 children who didn't have their first shot of the measles vaccine," he said.

Many experts have warned a second wave of the pandemic could be even deadlier than the first, pointing to the 1918-20 Spanish flu pandemic.

When it first emerged in March 1918, it had the hallmarks of the typical seasonal illness - but it came back in an even more virulent and deadly form in the autumn, killing an estimated 50 million people.

"We know from history that in pandemics the countries that have not been hit early on can be hit in a second wave," said Dr Kluge.

"What are we going to see in Africa and Eastern Europe? They're behind the curve. Some countries are saying 'We're not like Italy' and then, two weeks later, boom! They can unfortunately get hit by a second wave, so we have to be very, very careful."

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In the absence of an effective treatment or a vaccine, Dr Kluge said any lockdown had to be accompanied by rigorous public health measures including comprehensive contact tracing and testing.

Dr Kluge said public behaviour would play a key part in keeping the virus at bay as many countries begin to relax their lockdown restrictions.

"We are now at a fork in the road - where our actions and individual behaviour determines which path we follow," he said yesterday.

"Emergency fatigue threatens precious gains we have made against this virus. Reports of distrust in authorities and conspiracy thinking are fuelling movements against physical distancing, other people are behaving over-cautiously.

Immunity

"Our behaviour today will set the course for the pandemic. As governments lift restrictions, you, the people, are the main actors."

Meanwhile, no more than 5pc of the population of France and Spain have contracted the disease, say two studies in a major blow to hopes of "herd immunity".

A mere 4.4pc of the French population - or 2.8 million people - have been infected, according to findings of the Pasteur Institute published in the journal 'Science' and based on models applied to hospital and death data.

Even in the worst-hit parts of France - in the east and the Paris region - the infection rate reaches only between 9-10pc on average, it found.

Such figures are considerably higher than the official count of cases but far too low to effectively stop the spread of the virus through group immunity.

"Around 65pc of the population should be immune if we want to control the pandemic by the sole means of immunity," it said.

Herd immunity refers to a situation where enough people in a population have immunity to an infection to be able to effectively stop it spreading.

The Pasteur Institute's infection rates were measured on Monday, the day when France started to unwind its almost two-month national lockdown.

Strict confinement led to a drastic decline of coronavirus's reproduction rate, falling from 2.9 to 0.67 over the 55-day virtual standstill of the country, said the researchers.

However, its findings suggest that "without a vaccine, the herd immunity alone will not be enough to avoid a second wave at the end of the lockdown. Efficient control measures must thus be upheld after May 11."

Globally, the number of people confirmed to have died from Covid-19 has risen over 300,000, with 1.5 million believed to have recovered. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Visit our Covid-19 vaccine dashboard for updates on the roll out of the vaccination program and the rate of Coronavirus cases Ireland

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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